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The Democrats' war on Nader

August 6, 2004 | Pages 8 and 9

JOHN KERRY and the Democrats made a big show at their convention in Boston of pledging to run a principled campaign against George W. Bush. "The high road may be harder, but it leads to a better place," Kerry lectured in his acceptance speech. "And that's why Republicans and Democrats must make this election a contest of big ideas, not small-minded attacks."

But when it comes to the operation to wreck the independent presidential campaign of Ralph Nader, no attack is too "small-minded"--and no road too low. "If you take the high road and leave him alone, he could tip a state or two," Tom Pazzi, a national Democratic strategist, recently told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Then you'll regret that you took the high road."

NICOLE COLSON reports on the Democrats' war to keep Ralph Nader off the November ballot.

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IT'S A scorched-earth war--carried out around the country to challenge Nader's effort to get his candidacy on the ballot in different states. Business Week reports that the party machine has been mobilized to raise money for "additional legal challenges in the battleground states of Florida, Michigan, West Virginia, and Nevada."

But former "Nader Raider" Toby Moffett, an ex-member of Congress from Connecticut in charge of coordinating the attack on Nader's ballot petitions in several states, says the strategy is not only to attack Nader in swing states--where Democrats fear that Nader could get votes from people who otherwise would support Kerry--but also in so-called "safe states." The goal, Moffett told the New York Times, is "to drain him of resources and force him to spend his time and money."

The Democrats' attack dogs claim they are justified because Nader has gotten a limited amount of support from Republican-connected groups in his effort to qualify for the ballots of some states. But the Democrats wouldn't complain if money from groups with a tradition of supporting Republicans went to their campaign. In fact, they would celebrate it.

Their real objection to Nader is that he is running for president at all--and offering a left-wing alternative to John Kerry. "The two parties have really rigged the system with some of those laws," Nader told one newspaper in July. "Some of the laws are just horrendous.

"To cover the margin, we need 200,000 signatures in North Carolina to reach 100,000 signatures, in case they aren't registered voters, they put the wrong county, or write street instead of avenue. They can just pick them apart." And pick them apart they have.

Across the country, state ballot laws are absurdly complicated--and put higher demands on independent and third party candidates than the mainstream parties. But the ballot maze has been further complicated by Democrats out to stop Nader by any means.

--In Oregon, Nader tried to qualify for the ballot under a state law allowing candidates to hold a meeting of 1,000 or more voters, who would sign petitions for Nader. Groups of Democrats infiltrated the convention--in order to prevent real Nader supporters from getting in to sign petitions. The convention fell 50 signatures short of the 1,000 needed to get Nader on the Oregon ballot--meaning that the Nader campaign will have to gather 15,000 signatures statewide.

--In Arizona, the Nader campaign was forced to withdraw its bid to get on the ballot after Democrats filed a lawsuit in June to invalidate Nader's petitions. The substance of the Democrats' complaint? Some of the more than 22,000 signatures submitted to state authorities had been gathered by convicted felons, a violation of the state's undemocratic ballot laws. Here, too, Nader was left just short of the number of signatures needed to qualify. But his campaign lacked the money to challenge the lawsuit in court. "They litigated us out of the race," Nader spokesman Kevin Zeese told CNN.

--In Michigan, the Democratic Party allegedly hired a contractor to check the validity of Nader signatures--and the contractor outsourced the work to India.

--Even in South Carolina--a state where Kerry has little chance of winning, Democrats appealed for volunteers to challenge Nader's ballot petitions--and groups of Democrats have begun trying to strike enough signatures to get him booted from the ballot.

As Nader told a press conference late last month, these dirty tricks are further proof that "The Democrats, like the Republicans, think they own the voters."

They hate Nader more than Bush

TO GET on the ballot in Illinois, Ralph Nader has to submit 25,000 valid signatures of registered voters--five times the requirement for the Democrats and Republicans. In June, the campaign submitted 33,000 signatures--usually more than enough to qualify. But then the state's Democratic Party machine got to work.

The Nader campaign recently discovered that many of the "volunteers" sitting in for the Democrats to challenge signatures in June and July include full-time state employees, part-time state contractors and interns. The Illinois Leader, which examined the sign-in sheets for the Cook County Clerk's Office and the Chicago Board of Elections during the weeks of the Nader petition challenge, found the names of 20 employees of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan's office.

"It is illegal for them to use state employees, on the taxpayers' dime, to try to keep a candidate off the ballot," Nader's Illinois petition challenge coordinator Christina Tobin told Socialist Worker.

This all-out effort against Nader stands in stark contrast to the way that state Democrats made sure that George W. Bush was on the ballot. The late date of this year's Republican Party convention meant that Bush would not be able to meet a state deadline requiring that the official nominee be named by August 30.

So Democrats, led by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, helped pass an amendment allowing an exception for Bush. It's enough to make you wonder who the Democrats are really running harder against: Bush or Nader?

Who's in bed with the right?

"SPOILED," SELF-IMPORTANT," "a vanity campaign"--all this and more has been said about Ralph Nader's 2004 presidential campaign, often enough by former supporters and sympathizers. But no slur has made the rounds with as much zeal as the charge that Nader--breaking with four decades of liberal activism against corporate abuses and political corruption--has jumped into bed with the right wing of the Republican Party.

Thus, Jeff Cohen, of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting and the former communications director of Dennis Kucinich's presidential campaign, recently complained about "how readily Nader has accepted the right-wing help"--citing a San Francsico Chronicle report that one in 10 Nader donors giving $1,000 or more had also donated to Bush and the Republicans.

Actually, Republicans have contributed only about $50,000 out of the total $1 million that Nader has raised--in other words, a drop in the bucket. Nader's liberal attackers won't tell you that. Nor will they mention the tens of millions of dollars in contributions for the Democratic Party from huge corporations--including those with longstanding ties to the Republicans.

For example, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, 24 "double-giver" companies--including General Electric, CitiGroup, Coca-Cola, DaimlerChrysler, Pfizer and AT&T--contributed both to the New York host committee for the Republican convention and the Boston host committee for the Democrats. Nader, of course, takes no corporate money for his campaign.

As left-wing writer Joshua Frank put it on the CounterPunch Web site, "Clearly, conservative money and support, which is minimal at best, is aiding Nader's efforts to get his name on certain state ballots. But Democrats are also guilty of having their hand in a tainted cookie jar. "The difference being, Nader is unlikely to be persuaded by such support. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for his opposition."

"Time to declare our independence"
By Michael Smith

"THE REPUBLICANS are worse, the Democrats are bad, and they both flunk." That was Ralph Nader's message to more than 1,000 people who turned out to a rally in San Francisco last month to kick off the independent presidential candidate's bid to get on the ballot in California.

Telling the crowd to "never put the struggle for justice on vacation," Nader placed his campaign in the tradition of such movements that as the struggle for abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, and the struggle against the Vietnam War. Peter Camejo, Nader's vice presidential running mate and two-time Green Party candidate for governor of California, electrified the crowd.

"On the critical issue of this campaign, the war in Iraq, we represent the overwhelming majority of the world," he said. "It is time for us to declare our independence. Free yourself from the Democrats!" Camejo also took on the Democrats' presidential candidate, John Kerry. "Kerry isn't Bush Lite, he's Bush Smart," Camejo said. "Everything that Bush has done, he was able to do because the Democrats let him and supported him."

In addition to speeches from Nader and Camejo, a range of local activists spoke on issues such as the occupation of Palestine, drivers' licenses for undocumented workers, the need for a universal health care system and our decaying public school system.

The event, which raised more than $20,000 and signed up more than 200 people who wanted to become involved in the campaign, sent a clear message: We will not be intimidated into shutting our mouths and falling in line behind Kerry. "We shouldn't underestimate our enemy--that there is only one party of the rich," said Todd Chretien, of the International Socialist Organization in the Bay Area. "Bush set the house on fire, but the Democratic Party helped him. They're the second party of pyromaniacs."

Nader echoed this focus on Kerry and the Democrats. "Who voted for war?" he asked. "Who voted for the PATRIOT Act? Who got NAFTA and the WTO through Congress? John Kerry. We've got to break up the two-party duopoly once and for all."

Other speakers blasted Kerry for his support for Bush's invasion of Iraq. "Both parties sent mostly the poor and people of color to fight their dirty and illegal war and occupation [of Iraq]," said Renee Saucedo, a Green Party member who is running for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (the equivalent of the city council).

Jess Ghannam, president of the San Francisco Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, added: "On issues of importance to my community, the difference between Bush and Kerry are zilch. Kerry simply wants to put a happy face on the occupation and the PATRIOT Act."

Matt Gonzalez, the Green Party president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who came within a few thousand votes last December of upsetting heavily favored Democrat Gavin Newsom to be the city's mayor, began the evening by calling for serious electoral reform. "The two-party system is broken," said Gonzalez. "I wish the Democratic Party would put the energy they put into keeping Nader and Camejo off the ballot into electoral reform."

Andres Meraz, who attended the rally from Santa Cruz and plans to vote for Nader in November, said that fear was a primary factor in many people's support for Kerry. "People are going to vote for Kerry not because they think he's going to bring real change, but because they don't realize that there's any alternative."

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